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IDEA’s iconic leader faces dissent at party congress

Panel members talk yesterday in Phnom Penh at the fourth Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association congress
Panel members talk yesterday in Phnom Penh at the fourth Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association congress. Vireak Mai

IDEA’s iconic leader faces dissent at party congress

Months after Vorn Pov was released from prison, a small number of members belonging to his Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) debated yesterday whether to re-elect him as leader.

During IDEA’s fourth congress, where 200 members chose Pov – who was released from prison in May after spending months inside for his actions during a garment protest in January – a group of about 15 stood outside the Community Legal Education Center office in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district calling for a postponement.

“They’ve already selected IDEA’s leadership,” said Sok Chhun Oeung, the union’s deputy president, who led the protesters. “There have been irregularities and breaches of trust; there are problems with holding the congress now, so we ask for a delay.”

IDEA held several meetings ahead of the congress, Pov said, but it had become apparent that Oeung wanted to split the union. Pov accused Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union president Ath Thorn, vice president Kong Athit and secretary-general Ek Sopheakdey of encouraging the protest, adding that Oeung simply wanted to be president.

“Sok Chhun Oeung validated that he would divide IDEA into two in September,” Pov said. “Ath Thorn himself said if we did not agree, then IDEA should walk out of the [Cambodian Labour Confederation],” of which Thorn is president.

Thorn yesterday denied the allegation, saying he was approached by Oeung and floated the idea of splitting the union in two as a method of conflict resolution.

Oeung yesterday said he would file a motion with the Ministry of Interior to have IDEA dissolved due to a failure to follow its constitution.

Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center, who spoke at the congress, said afterwards that the union – which rose to international fame when Pov was jailed along with 22 others in connection with January’s garment worker protests – should be capitalising on its newfound influence.

“Hopefully, the internal strife can be put aside.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN

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